Science and Invention
When was the radio invented?
The radio, or “wireless,” was born in 1895 when Italian physicist and inventor Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) experimented with wireless telegraphy. The following year he transmitted telegraph signals, through the air, from Italy to England. By 1897 Marconi founded his own company, Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd., in London and began setting up communication lines across the English Channel to France, which he accomplished in 1898. In 1900 Marconi established the American Marconi Company. He continued making improvements, including those that allowed for sending out signals on different wavelengths so that multiple messages could be transmitted at one time, without interfering with each other. The first transatlantic message, from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada, was sent and received in 1901.
At first radio technology was regarded as a novelty and few understood how it could work. But in January 1901 a Marconi wireless station at South Wellfleet, Massachusetts (on Cape Cod), received Morse code messages as well as faint music and voices from Europe. That event changed the perception of radio: Before long, Americans had become accustomed to receiving “radiograms,” messages transmitted via the wireless. In 1906 the first radio broadcast of voice and music was made: The event originated at Brant Rock, Massachusetts, on Christmas Eve—and the program was picked up by ships within a radius of several hundred miles. That accomplishment resulted from the invention of another radio pioneer, American engineer Reginald Fessenden (1866–1932), who patented a high-frequency alternator (1901) capable of generating continuous waves rather than intermittent impulses; it was the first successful radio transmitter.
In 1910 American inventor Lee De Forest (1873–1961), the “father of radio,” broadcast opera singer Enrico Caruso’s (1873–1921) tenor voice over the airwaves. In 1916 De Forest transmitted the first radio news broadcast. Westinghouse station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the first corporately sponsored station and the first broadcast station licensed on a frequency outside amateur bands. Within three years of its first commercial radio broadcast, which announced the election returns in the presidential race on November 2, 1920 (Warren G. Harding won), there were more than 500 radio stations in the United States.